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What ARRRRRRRRRR they, hijackers?

"Those guys were pirates? Admit it, you chased much cooler pirates when you were on our team."
Hank Venture, The Venture Brothers

Truth in Television: Pirates, or more politically correctly, maritime terrorists, still roam the waters today (mostly in regions of high political instability or weak military resolve to stop them, such as Somalia, West Africa and the Straits of Malacca). This trope is about them.

Unlike their fictional counterparts, there is nothing romantic about these modern-day pirates. They tend to be completely ruthless, cold-blooded killers, devoid of honour and willing to stoop to any crime: Sociopathic Soldiers on the high seas. Bonus points if characters express disappointment at these pirates' failure to shiver timbers.

Then again, this characterization is exactly how pirates were viewed during the Golden Age of Piracy and many of them lived up (or down) to this reputation. Perhaps 400 years from now, Somalian pirates will be viewed as romantic rogues. Also in the defense of modern piracy methods, the entire venture cannot work without at least some decent degree of stealth, i.e. independence from worldwide law enforcement. The use of vessels like Blackbeard's Queen Anne's Revenge or Bartholomew Roberts' ("Black Bart's") Royal Fortune would be easily visible by satellite imagery, and even if a modern pirate could take control of a hyper-fast and -powerful ship on the order of a US Navy destroyer, most every nation in the world would almost certainly launch immediate near-limitless-resource missions to hunt down and destroy it. That's on top of the fact that operating a modern warship requires resources far beyond what it took to run an effective pirate ship in the 18th century. In other words, piracy, like any other form of criminal enterprise, was forced to change with the times, or die.

Style is important, it seems: in terms of being romanticized, Gangsters are the modern-day equivalent of 18th-century Pirates, going on the high seas perhaps being seen as passe and hence not worth dressing up.

Malaysian and Indonesian pirates live up to their reputation in creative ways that would make Type 1 pirates of yore proud. Instead of walking the plank, for instance, they like to leave crewmembers stranded in shallow water coral reefs 50 miles off the coast, where they have to stand on tip-toes waiting for a passing ship. This is to ensure you don't call for help while the ship is still in the vicinity--and that is if they don't execute everyone on board. The Somalis, on the other hand, make millions on ransom alone.

Related to Ruthless Foreign Gangsters.

May be Submarine Pirates.

For modern day pirates who still dress and act as if were the Golden Age of Piracy, see A Pirate 400 Years Too Late.

See also Sky Pirates and Space Pirates for specific types of modern-day/future pirates that still retain their romanticism.

Examples of Ruthless Modern Pirates include:

Anime and Manga

  • In the X-men anime some modern pirates attack a cruise ship. Unfortunately for them they interrupted Storm's vacation...
  • The main characters of Black Lagoon are shown hijacking a ship after Rock first joins them. Since the group's normal vessel is a torpedo boat, one assumes they engage in piracy when their "delivery" business is poor.
    • The characters are first seen robbing and kidnapping Rock. They were hired specifically to steal a disk by Hotel Moscow. Later, they were hired by someone else to hijack the ship. Basically, they commit whatever crimes they are hired to do (smuggling drugs, et cetera.) Luak and his men were also pirates before getting wiped out by Revy.

Comic Books

  • Green Arrow's origin (at least in some versions) involves modern-day pirates hijacking Oliver Queen's yacht and throwing him overboard.
  • One of the many kinds of criminals that The Punisher has fought. The River Rats from Punisher MAX series is a recent example.
  • Members of G.I. Joe along with their Soviet counterparts, the Oktober Guard, are captured by river pirates in G.I. Joe Special Missions #4.
  • Aquaman battles Somali pirates (with unexpected consequences) in Brightest Day #1.
    • Arguably Aquaman villain Black Manta.
  • Since The Phantom's origin involves pirates, he often fights the modern versions. In one DC Comics story, the brutal thugs attacking a yacht are contrasted with a swashbuckling movie playing on the yacht's TV.
  • Deathstroke and The Warlord in Flashpoint: Deathstroke and the Legend of the Ravager. While Deathstroke is given a bit of a pass because of his noble intentions (he's only turned to piracy as a means to rescue his kidnapped daughter) the rest of his crew are portrayed as remorseless bloodthirsty criminals who just happen to be on a boat.
  • Fathom clashes with modern day pirates off the coast of Florida in Fathom vol. 4, #1.
  • Mojo and his crew from "How Daphne lost her Mojo (and got it back!)" in the graphic novel Sex Ed 101 by Enrique Villagran.

Fan Fiction


  • Made for TV Movie Desperate Voyage. A modern-day pirate hijacks private yachts, steals the valuables on board, and sends the passengers to the bottom of the ocean.
  • Kidnapped in Paradise. A woman is kidnapped (and her fiancee is killed) by modern day pirates.
  • A major plot point in Six Days Seven Nights.
  • In Clear and Present Danger, an act of piracy leads to an attempt by the U.S. government to systematically assassinate the leaders of drug cartels in revenge.
  • Captain Ron features some real life Pirates of the Caribbean. This is lampshaded by Martin Short's incredulous, "Pirates? Of the Caribbean? Really?"
  • In The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, Zissou's boat is attacked by pirates.
  • The 1976 Exploitation Film The Muthers features a band of female pirates who go undercover at a prison camp on a coffee plantation to rescue their leader's sister.
  • In Raiders of the Lost Ark, the crew that are hired to transport Indy, his Doggone Partner and the Ark pretend to be these to try and prevent the two of them being captured by Nazis (claiming they killed Indy and planned to sell her into slavery). Interestingly it fails, but not for the reasons you'd think.
  • Pirates of the XXth Century, a 1979 Soviet adventure film about modern piracy.
  • A group of modern day pirates run afoul of Tina in her introduction in the DOA: Dead or Alive movie--and then have the misfortune to encounter the heroines when they are stranded at sea at the movie's end.
  • Rambo has Burmese river pirates in the fourth movie.
  • Somalian pirates get ass-whupped at the beginning of The Expendables.
  • The mercenaries assaulting the cruise ship in Deep Rising.


  • The Peter Benchley novel (and later film) The Island.
  • The NUMA Series novel Pacific Vortex features pirates using a modern legend as a cover for ship captures.
  • Zoltan the Magyar and his crew from the Young Bond novel Blood Fever.
  • Mentioned in The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey. Cannonball, first officer on the cargo ship Shortcut, explains that "modern day pirates don't fly the skull and crossbones," but definitely do exist and can be very dangerous.
  • In Atlas Shrugged, Ragnar Danneskjöld is a Norwegian 20th Century ideological pirate, completely dedicated to promoting the ideology of Capitalism and unrestrained Free Market by force of arms on the high seas. Of course, Ayn Rand portrays him as a hero.
  • From James Lee Burke's The Neon Rain (narrated by main character Dave Robicheaux):

 Now these same bayous, canals, and marshlands where I had grown up were used by the Barataria pirates. But their namesakes, Jean Lafitte's collection of brigands and slavers, were romantic figures by comparison. The current group was made up of marijuana, cocaine, and heroin smugglers who would murder a whole family out on the Gulf simply for the one-time use of their boat, after which they'd open up the cocks and sink it. Occasionally the Coast Guard would find one half-filled with water and beached on a sandbar, the gunwales painted with blood.

  • Explored in the Swallows and Amazons book Peter Duck--some of the child protagonists like to pretend to be classic eighteenth century style pirates, and get a rude awakening when their ship is attacked by real contemporary pirates.
  • The Transformers novel The Veiled Threat starts with a group of Somali pirates raiding a cargo ship that just so happened to be carrying NEST soldiers along with one badass autobot with really big guns. (Ironhide) The chapter ends with one of the pirates deciding to switch his profession to that of fisherman.

Live Action TV

  • "Uh-oh, Chongo! It's Danger Island, next!" on The Banana Splits. Featured Captain Mu-Tan and his rag-tag band of modern day pirates.
  • CSI: Miami: A boat is suspected to have been hit by pirates, but careful investigation turns out that it was a white supremacist militia group, and one of the crew was in on the attack.
  • The MacGyver episode "Pirates" had Mac clash with modern day pirates.
  • Gavin gets rescued and then promptly Bound and Gagged by these in The Brittas Empire, after being lost at sea on a potato-powered lilo. I'd like to say it makes sense in context.
  • Deadliest Warrior had the Somali pirates do battle against the Medellin Drug Cartel.
  • Burn Notice episode "Rough Seas" never included the word "pirates", perhaps to avoid invoking this, but the bad guys were thieves operating on the water.
  • The Law & Order: Criminal Intent two-parter "Loyalty" deals with Somali pirates.
  • The A-Team takes on river pirates in The Amazon in the two-part episode "The Bend in the River".
  • On Thirty Rock Cerie's wedding is delayed by several months because her fiancée is captured by Somali pirates. Due to Stockholm Syndrome, some of them end up as groomsmen at the wedding.


Newspaper Comics

  • The Terry and the Pirates comic strip dealt with the pirates of the China Seas in the 1930s (modern day for the strip), the beginnings of modern day piracy.
  • Pirates were a common foe in the early days of the Jungle Jim strip.


Video Games

  • The second area of operation in SOCOM III is in the Indian ocean, fighting against a group of pirates called the Fist and Fire.
  • In Uncharted: Drake's Fortune All the enemies are modern pirates. Nathan even comments on how far they are from the idealized notion of old-timey pirates. "They don't take prisoners... well, not male prisoners."
  • B. Jenet is the female leader of the Lilian Knights (a band of modern pirates) in the The King of Fighters universe. They use a nuclear-powered submarine rather than a galleon.
  • The first mission of the computer game Comanche 4 deals with the US army fighting the pirates of Indonesia.
  • And Dangerous Waters often has rogue, "pirate" elements in speedboats. Fortunately, they go down to gunfire quickly. Unfortunately, they tend to be mixed in with civilian fishermen and other vessels, making it difficult to identify them.
  • Anno 2070 features modern pirates.

Web Comics

Web Original

Western Animation

  • The former trope name was "A Disgrace to Blackbeard", coming from Cartman's assessment of piracy in Somalia in the South Park episode "Fatbeard". However, the Somalian pirates are shown sympathetically to a degree, having resorted to piracy only because a Crapsack World forced them into it. And the Somalis do turn into the more romanticized brand of pirate for a time (complete with sea chantey sing-alongs), if only because (as Cartman points out) it's just much more fun that way.
  • Jonny Quest TOS episode "Skull and Double Crossbones". Modern day pirates force the Quests to help them obtain sunken treasure.
  • An episode of The Simpsons had a lost-at-sea character being rescued by pirates, and thinking how awesome it was. We see their conversation subtitled as they cheerfully plan to sell him into slavery. Except that they were fisherman, and the saved him in a net moments from drowning.
    • Played straight with the Pirates that attack Homer's "Party Boat".

 Asian Pirate: Set a course for Hidden Pirate Island, A.K.A Hong Kong!

  • The PG-rated modern pirates Captain Barnibus Crab, Kim and Simon are the main bad guys in the third series of the Flipper And Lopaka animated series.
  • Archer was captured for ransom by modern Malay pirates in "Heart of Archness"; he thought that pirates didn't still exist and many pirate stereotype jokes are made. Then Archer becomes the Pirate King by Klingon Promotion, but proves pretty bad at maritime hijacking (he lets his victim keep his ship out of sympathy for small-business owners).
  • Batman and Aquaman clash with modern day pirates during The Teaser of the Batman the Brave And The Bold episode "Clash of the Metal Men".
  • One of the Rupert Bear cartoons featured river pirates, who show up in a later episode as members of a pirate retirement home, which had previously been inhabited solely by more traditional pirates.

Real Life

  • Recently published histories of the resurgence of modern piracy include Jolly Roger With An Uzi, and Dangerous Waters.
  • Historical pirate crews did operate according to rules set by the captain: John Phillips of the Revenge, for example, decreed that any member of his crew who committed rape would be put to death. However, this was less because Even Evil Has Standards and more because even pirate captains needed to maintain discipline among their crews.
    • For the given meaning of the term, discipline on the pirate ships was in general much better than on legit boats. Pirate crews were democratic communities of equals, united in their quest for Plunder, where the captains usually were just elected leaders who held absolute authority only in battle, and where the shares of loot were divided and vital matters decided by the common agreement. There weren't much oppression on the pirate ships, and personal disagreements were either settled by the trusted comrades or decided by the duel. This created a fairly relaxed atmosphere that wasn't conducive to morale problems. The warships and merchantmen OTOH had strict hierarchical structures and were led by the masters that were agents of their Government or owner, with crews often forced into service and subject to the same class differences as on land: a perfect breeding ground for dissent and mutiny.